Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Pittsburg, those whose lives were senselessly taken by hate, and for the loved ones they leave behind. Now more than ever, we need to remember that love is stronger than hate.
The crown jewels of Hindu mythology are its two grand epics, Ramayana and the Mahabharata. These reflect Vishnu’s incarnations as Rama and Krishna. Both epics are literary masterpieces containing a wealth of history, legend, philosophy, and ideology. They are post Vedic works considered smiriti or recollection rather than sruti or revelation.
The Ramayana was composed by Valmiki, a bandit turned saint and poet. Lord Brahma inspired him to write the Ramayana, a dramatic poem consisting of seven books divided into five hundred stanzas and 24,000 verses. It is believed to have been recorded about 500 BCE or earlier. The story is an intricate one with a large cast of characters including gods, demons, humans, super humans, animals, and birds who personify good, evil, or both. The well-developed characters act out their karma with elegance and might. The master plot containing intricate subplots takes many twists and turns and contains many diversions designed to keep its listeners riveted to every adventure and full anticipation up to the very end.
Some of us take our beliefs, feelings or doubts about matters like life, death, and the existence of a supreme being more deeply to heart than others.
Some of us worry about small and big things that may or may not be within our power to control while others are more carefree.
Some of us fret over the future of our planet, our people, our nations, our politics, and our faith while others just do our best with without much preoccupation.
It is hard to say that one attitude is better than another. If our concerns make us do better or become better, that is good. But if we believe that we cannot assume responsibility for things we are unable to change and remain more laid back about the fate of humanity, that is fine too. Either way, as long as we strive to be as kind and effective as we can and as long as we can be happy and have fun, we will be fine.
As we enter the fall in the northern hemisphere, many of us struggle with casting off the blahs. Summer ends, vacations are done with and it is time to muster up our energy. Of course, the blahs come and go for many of us at different times, but as fall approaches we get increasingly sluggish.
While sloth is a sin and many teachings and preachings tell us to act with vigor, the blahs are not laziness. They are a response to a changing environment. They help us prepare for colder darker days ahead.
I like the coziness of autumn and winter. It is nice to get away from endless sunlight and heat. It is nice to huddle a bit and settle indoors. It is good to find quieter joys and to eat warmer food. I welcome the blahs.
Chapter 13 of the Gita explores the relationship between the body and the spirit. The Lord explains that the body is called the field and that the spirit is the knower of the field. Our spirit is the glow of God. It is the spark of creation that exists beyond our physical, emotional or intellectual being.
In this chapter Lord Krishna discusses the role of knowledge in human existence. He describes knowledge, the opposite of ignorance, as many good things and particularly as awareness of God.
The ultimate purpose of knowledge is for us to reach the state of enlightenment which enables us to become one with God.
To some extent, our lives are determined by the choices we make. But to what extent are our choices real? This question underlies most human dilemmas.
Arjun’s doubt about whether it would be better to be killed than to fight and kill his enemies is the focus of The Gita which synthesizes Hindu philosophy. Here, God explains why Arjun must fight and He shows us that Arjun really does not have a choice.
Yet, human decisions though tethered are not fully predetermined. They depend upon our nature, our capacity to judge, our circumstances, our mood and upon the choices we made in the past. At the same time, our current actions and inactions affect our future as well as the futures of all who are touched by what we do or do not do. Thus, as much as our choices arise from our karma, they create it.
Fortunately, we are not always aware of the many big and little choices we make throughout our days. If we were fully aware of them, we would probably go crazy. Still, though fettered or made in haste, our decisions matter. So, we must do the best we can, heeding our consciences and the advice of those we respect.
See Chapter Six, Karma and Reincarnation in On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar.
In Hindu philosophy, goodness, truth, and God are one. God is absolute goodness and eternal truth. The Absolute Soul that is God illuminates the soul of all beings. However, human goodness is a material human trait.
The human traits of goodness and evil both pertain to the body, not to the spirit. In Hindu thought, the mind is part of the body. It is the energy that powers out intellect, our judgment, and our ego, but it is temporal and it is shed when the soul is released from the bondage of repeated reincarnations.
The body and mind are matter whereas the soul is spirit. A particular life comes into being when the spirit and the body join together and it ends when the soul and the body separate at death.
Violence and destruction is not always harmful. Burning fields to improve their fertility is a good thing. It is different from starting a wildfire that will burn and destroy forests. The Gita speaks of a moral war, explaining that the soul cannot be killed and that the body does not matter at all. The Mahabharata and the Gita illustrate rather than explain what constitutes a moral war. Lord Krishna speaks on the “Battlefield of Sharma.”
The noble hero, Arjun, does not want to slay his enemy. He does not want a kingdom, or victory, or pleasures. He would rather his enemy kill him than kill them. Lord Krishna convinces Arjun to fight, leaving the outcome of the war in God’s hands:
Do not care if your fighting brings pleasure or pain,
Victory or defeat.
Just do your duty.
In this way you will be free.
These lines make it clear that Ahimsa, or nonviolence, is not strictly a pacificist doctrine. It may not even be a doctrine as much as awareness, a consciousness of what human beings need to do to maintain universal harmony and balance.
The accrual of karma can be likened to the accrual of profit and loss in the accounting f our lives.
Sanchita Karma is the sum total of the unresolved karma accumulated in past lives. This is the karma that we bring from our past existences into our present existence. It determines things like the qualities with which we are born and the families into which we are born as well as the time and place of our birth which establish astrological influences in our lives. Sanchita Karma continues to accrue in our current life since, once we have acted, our present actions become part of our past.
Sanchita Karma, or accumulated karma, is karma that we have not yet burned. Until it is exhausted, it continues to generate more karma and to cause ongoing birth and rebirth. Hindu teachers tell us that we can reduce the effect Sanchita Karma through various methods of self-purification.
We can follow one of the three paths to enlightening: performing good action (which means selfless action), seeking good knowledge (which means true knowledge), or worshipping God faithfully (which means sincere, consistent worship). Or we can attain a higher level of consciousness by practicing yoga and meditation or by faithfully performing sacrificial acts.
According to Buddhist thought, the soul does not retain its attributes at death any more than a wave retains its identity when it dissipates in the ocean. An analogy often used to illustrate Buddhism’s perspective of the cycle of birth and rebirth is that of a candle that lights another candle as it flickers and becomes extinguished.
Buddhist belief in the process of birth and rebirth is validated by the testimony of Lord Buddha Himself, who upon enlightenment came to know all the details of His hundreds or thousands of past lives. He stated that His present life would be His last. Although Lord Buddha would not include God in His teachings and did not claim to be divine, His followers came to worship Him.
Buddhists pay Him homage, if not as God, then as the Enlightened One and Hindus see Buddha as the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver.
Read more about Birth and Rebirth in the Buddhist Religion in On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar.